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Originally published October 31, 2012 at 9:08 PM | Page modified October 31, 2012 at 9:48 PM

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Roosevelt completes long, hard ride back to playoffs

Roosevelt is back in the playoffs for the first time since 1995, when coach Matt Nelsen played for the Roughriders.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The last time Roosevelt made the playoffs, in 1995, quarterback Matt Nelsen lined up with Kiyoshi Imanaka and Jon Bennion. Roosevelt played in the Olympic League and traveled to Silverdale Stadium to take on Central Kitsap.

Seventeen years later, Nelsen, the head coach at Roosevelt, has guided the Roughriders (6-3) back to the playoffs with the help of Imanaka, his defensive coordinator, and Bennion, his defensive line coach.

The Roughriders' opponent in the round of 32 on Saturday — Central Kitsap, at Silverdale Stadium.

"I've watched this program battle for so long and have some teams that were really tough and pretty good," Nelsen said. "But when you're in KingCo, it's hard to get good feedback for all the hard work. To have the guys get recognition, after all these years, is really the best part."

Nelsen talked at length about his 25-member senior class before the season. It wasn't just that the group had talented players and was large by Roosevelt standards.

Senior offensive linemen Mitchell Shepherd said the Roughriders were trying to establish a foundation.

"Since we came to Roosevelt," Shepherd said, "we've been working hard to change the culture and really change the program around, as far as wins and losses, as well as work ethic and the time you put in."

The Roughriders opened the season by beating then-ranked Seattle Prep, and have also beaten once-ranked Issaquah on the road.

All three Roosevelt losses are to teams that were ranked, including a six-point defeat against Kennedy Catholic and a two-point loss to Newport.

Running back Taku Shiozaki has rushed for more than 700 yards. Receivers Mitchell Bouldin and Cameron Holand give quarterback Austin Gunning big-play options. Tate Maider leads a sound defense.

"I don't think my players are surprised by what happened," Nelsen said. "I'm just really proud of what they've accomplished."

Roosevelt officially made the playoffs on Saturday, when the Roughriders held on for a 43-36 win against Eastlake to earn KingCo 4A's No. 4 seed.

"To see the final seconds click off and realize that they made it?" said Jeff Ware, Roosevelt's coach from 2003 to 2010. "That was pretty special."

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